WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES NOV. 28-30

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Complete estimates are in for the holiday weekend box office!

1. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” $56.8 Million

2. “Penguins Of Madagascar” $25.8 Million

3. “Big Hero 6” $18.7 Million

4. “Interstellar” $15.8 Million

5. “Horrible Bosses 2” $15.7 Million

6. “Dumb and Dumber To” $8.3 Million

7. “The Theory Of Everything” $5 Million

8. “Gone Girl” $2.47 Million

9. “Birdman” $1.88 Million

10. “St. Vincent” $1.77 Million

source: Box Office Mojo

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK (1978)

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GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK (1978)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

After watching Expendables 2 and seeing Chuck Norris appear in his extended cameo as “Booker”, I decided to go back and revisit one of his early films, the one from which his Expendables 2 character’s name pays homage to…or is he playing the same character decades later?

Good Guys Wear Black may not be Chuck Norris’ first action flick, or his best, but it is the first one I saw (at the now gone Park Lane theater in Palisades Park, N.J.) and it not only started his career as an action movie star, but made me a fan as well. Sure his flicks are low budget and cheesy, for the most part, but as you probably know, if you visit here frequently, that is right up my alley.

The story starts out in 1973 and has a senator (James Franciscus) using the fate of a special CIA black ops team called The Black Tigers as a bargaining chip to appease the Vietnamese during war negotiations to get back US soldiers held as prisoners of war. The deal is simple, the senator arranges for the assassination of the Black Tigers by setting them up on a phony mission and the Vietnamese will agree to release the POWs. But Major John T Booker (Chuck Norris) and some of his men survive the ambush and make their way home. Five years later the surviving members start to turn up dead and Booker must not only must fight to survive, but find out, with the help of a sexy reporter (Anne Archer), who is killing his former team and why.

As directed by Ted Post (Magnum Force), from a story by Joseph Fraley and a script by Bruce Cohn and Mark Medoff, Good Guys Wear Black is a moderately paced movie that is far more thriller than it is action flick. Sure there are scenes that make good use of star Norris’ martial arts skills, but those scenes are few and far between as the film is far more interested in being political thriller which, in turn, forces the karate champ to be more of an actor than an action star at too early a point in his career. The action we do get is routinely staged and being a low budget film, is modest in scale. I can appreciate not wanting to stick Norris in a routine martial arts flick, but putting him in a Three Days Of The Condor type political thriller wasn’t the way to go either. Norris didn’t have the chops and is rather wooden. It doesn’t help that Post doesn’t seem to be able to drum up any real suspense or really draw us into Booker’s story either. Despite being filmed widescreen, the film is shot rather like a TV movie by DOP Robert Steadman and has a fairly unremarkable jazz infused score by Craig Safan whose gone on to do some decent scores.

The cast are all fairly unremarkable with veteran Franciscus being very by-the-numbers in his few scenes and only Anne Archer, giving her side-kick role a little sex appeal, seems to be trying. Norris is likable but wooden as stated and since there is nothing special about the choreography of the action scenes, he really doesn’t get to show us much there either. The film was a big hit anyway, so it gave Norris the opportunity to be in flicks that far better displayed his martial arts skills, such as in The Octagon two years later.

Overall, the flick has some personal nostalgia for me as it was the first Norris flick I saw…and in a theater. Otherwise it’s fairly unremarkable except for being the film that got Norris started as a headlining action star, after initial notice from his legendary on-screen fight to the death with Bruce Lee at the end of Return Of The Dragon (Way Of The Dragon). Norris is now considered an action film icon and I have enjoyed many of his movies, cheesy or not.

So I give this flick a little more credit than it really deserves for being my first Norris flick and the movie that got him started on his way to being an 80s action movie icon. Worth a look if you are curious, but really nothing to recommend other than for the reasons previously stated. Flick also features Chuck’s younger brother Aaron in a small role as one of the Black Tigers. Aaron would go on to direct a number of his older brother’s films a decade later and is an accomplished martial artist as well.

2 and 1/2 bullets.

last_stand rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE WILD GEESE (1978)

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THE WILD GEESE (1978)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Over 3 decades before Stallone formed The Expendables, this all-star mercenary action flick had the idea to bring together a number of movie legends as a team of soldiers-for-hire on a rescue mission behind enemy lines in war-torn Africa. I had the pleasure of seeing this underrated action flick at the long gone Showboat Theater in Edgewater N.J. when it was released and quite enjoyed it then and even more now, as the added nostalgia makes it only more fun.

The story has aging mercenary team leader Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton) being hired to free the ousted and imprisoned president of a copper-rich African nation, Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona), by some big money men in London. Faulkner gathers his old comrades Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore), Rafer Janders (Richard Harris) and Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Kruger) for the mission. Once the 50 men required are trained and a rescue plan set, the mercenary team is dropped behind enemy lines to rescue their target. But, the money men come to a financial agreement with the new military dictator and so, The Wild Geese and the now the rescued Limbani are betrayed and left behind enemy lines to be hunted down and slaughtered by the vicious Simbas, a lethal army of well-armed and savage soldiers. Can they get out alive and return Limbani to his homeland to thwart their betrayers?

Based on a book by Daniel Carney, this is an old school, old-fashioned action adventure movie as directed by Andrew V. McLagen from Reginald Rose’s script. It was made at a time before the Die Hards, Rambos and Lethal Weapons changed the pacing and style of action movies forever. The film is moderately paced at first and takes it’s time to establish it’s likable characters and get it’s story in motion, but, once the team hits the ground, the film changes gears to a much faster pace for it’s rescue/shoot-out/chase flick second act. The action is well-staged and on a very large scale as our mercenary strike force are pursued and gunned-down by the relentless and numerous Simba’s. The action is also quite gruesome at times and the film earns it’s R-rating with a lot of blood spilled by bullet and machete alike. Cinematographer Jack Hildyard makes really good use of the South African locations to give the film a large scope and there is a pulse pounding action score by Roy Budd. It all combines for a rip-roaring good time and McLagen gives us some nice suspense and intensity to go along with the flying bullets and there is some fun but, unobtrusive comic relief especially during the training sequence with crusty old Sergeant Major Sandy (Jack Watson) and from a cranky African missionary played by Frank Finlay. An old style action epic that sadly has never really gotten the attention it deserves.

In the decade it was released, there were few bigger names than the leads cast here. Burton, Kruger, Harris and Moore all create some hard-nosed but, very likable heroes who may be getting a bit too old for this sort of adventure, long before Stallone’s borderline over-the-hill mercs hit the screen in 2010. The supporting cast, especially Watson, the always delightful Finlay and Stewart Granger’s slimy millionaire Sir Edward Matherson, support our leads well and overall create a large cast of characters to inhabit this tale of adventure and betrayal.

Obviously, from what you’ve read above, I really like this movie and I think anyone who enjoys a good action flick, especially old fashion war movies, will too. It takes about an hour to get our soldiers of fortune into motion but, once they do, the action is suspenseful and practically non-stop… though it never sacrifices some nice character moments for the gunplay… and I think the slower build-up is also engaging and the film benefits from taking it’s time developing the characters, so, we care about them when they are thrown in a jungle meat grinder. It’s an old style mercenary movie that was The Expendables of it’s day by putting an all-star cast together as aging men of war whose days of action are slowly becoming numbered. Simply a good, action-filled time of the type they rarely make anymore and all the more enjoyable for it. The film did eventually get a sequel of sorts, 7 years later, but, Wild Geese II is basically a sequel in name only and has none of the original cast and is quite forgettable.

MONSTERZERO NJ TRIVIA: The Wild Geese is edited by John Glen who not only edited a number of James Bond films and the classic Richard Donner Superman, but, directed all the James Bond films From For Your Eyes Only up to and including License To Kill!

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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WARNING: this trailer shows a lot of spoiler-ish scenes…

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S THANKSGIVING EVE DOUBLE FEATURE: EXPENDABLES 2 and EXPENDABLES 3

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I know I’ve covered both these movies before but, I got my copy of The Expendables 3 in the mail and decided to make an Expendables night out of it!

 

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THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)

Expendables 2 is a fun follow-up to the 2010 eighties action throwback hit that isn’t quite as engaging in it’s quieter moments as the previous flick but, thankfully there aren’t too many of those. This installment finds the gang being sent by the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) after a downed plane in Eastern Europe to recover the contents of an onboard safe. Along for the ride is Maggie (Yu Nan), a tech specialist and new sniper, Billy (Liam Hemsworth). But, they are intercepted by a gang of armed thugs headed by the cold blooded Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and henchman, Hector ( Scott Adkins) who take their quarry and kill one of the team. Now it’s personal, as Barney (Stallone) and Co. seek to track down Villain and put him down… for good. Along for the bullet-ridden ride are old rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Mr. Church and legendary ‘Lone Wolf’ mercenary, Booker (Chuck Norris). When the action is flying fast and furious, EX2 is a real blast. It’s great to see Arnold, Van Damme and Norris back on screen doing what they do best. Van Damme in particular seems to be having fun chewing up the Eastern European scenery as the lethal bad guy and he doesn’t get enough screen time, sadly, to really establish the character’s full menace. Aside from an overuse of CGI blood, director Simon West gives us some good, old-fashioned rip-roaring action scenes that fit the retro action icon cast perfectly and some good hand to hand combat as well. Although some of those, especially Stallone v.s. Van Damme, could have gone on a bit longer to give them more dramatic impact. And drama is where West stumbles. The scenes between the action, which should be engaging and strong to keep us involved until the bullets fly again, are rather ho-hum. The dramatic scenes, though few, needed some more energy, more “pop”. The camaraderie between the team members that Stallone captured so well in part 1 is weak here and because of that, we are less forgiving of the cheesy dialog and the characters are less engaging as well. Perfect example is Lundgren’s Gunner, who practically stole the flick first time around. He’s nowhere near as fun as in EX1 and the fun Statham/ Stallone relationship is also weaker. The in-between scenes also had a quicker pace under Stallone’s direction last time and thus we were able to overlook the plot holes easier. But, this is an action film and there is plenty of that and who is in action is why we sat in our seat and on that level, Expendables 2 delivers on what we came to see. I am all for Expendables 3 but, find a director that can put some energy in the drama, give the team their team spirit back and a writer who can give them some livelier banter… as well as deliver the carnage.

3 bullets!

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THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

Having grown up in the 80s, I obviously have an appreciation and love for the styles of  movies that came out then. And the 80s action flick is no different. So,no surprise, I am a fan of this series which takes a lot of those 80s action icons and let’s them suit up and shoot it out once more. And maybe I am biased but, I had an absolute blast with the latest installment.

The newest adventure finds Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and crew (Statham, Crews, Lundgren, Couture) rescuing an old Expendable member referred to as Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from a moving train incarceration and taking him on a mission in Somalia. There, not only does Barney find former Expendables co-founder turned arch-enemy Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) still alive… after Barney himself thought he killed him… but, one of his team is critically wounded. CIA operative Drummer (Harrison Ford) is not happy with the team’s failure and demands they try again. But, Barney realizes his team has been doing this a long time and the next mission may be their last so, he releases his longtime friends to gather a newer, younger team including the headstrong Smilee (Kellan Lutz) and the sexy and quite lethal Luna (Ronda Rousey). But, Conrad Stonebanks is one step ahead of them again and when he takes Barney’s rookies hostage, Barney realizes his mistake and the old team reunites to go into battle once more… maybe for the last time as Stonebanks has an army and is waiting.

I really enjoy these flicks and am certainly cutting them some slack due to the wonderful nostalgia of seeing these icons back in action and this time joined by veterans Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas… who practically stole the movie… and even a cameo by Robert Davi. But, to be honest, aside from some cheesy dialog, some sub-par CGI shots and a few wooden performances, the movie is a lot of fun especially in it’s roller coaster ride of a last act. Stallone’s script with Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt conveys a theme of adding new blood and this carried over to Sly’s choice of Australian director Patrick Hughes (Red Hill) to helm. Hughes directs well and and really brings it during the action scenes such as the exciting opening train assault and the final showdown, which was one of the most exciting extended action scenes I’ve seen since in a while. Hughes gives the film far more dramatic weight then Simon West’s somewhat weaker Expendables 2 but, doesn’t take his material too seriously as to not have a good time with it. The film is never boring at over 2 hrs and while the pace is fairly moderate, it makes the action all the more thrilling when Hughes and his cast crank it up to 11 for the carnage. For those worried about the lesser PG-13 rating, this might have the largest body count yet, so, it’s not a concern. Again, you have to go in knowing this is an old school style action flick and corny dialog and implausibility is to be expected. Sure I didn’t quite buy that Barney would cast away his old team so easily but, you know that’s not going to last and it doesn’t. Along the way there are some corny messages about ‘family’ but, it’s all part of the formula and for me, it works. It’s popcorn action, with a popcorn plot and Stallone and his team delivered the old school smack down once again, in my opinion. Brian Tyler also delivers another exciting score to accent the action and the film is shot well by Peter Menzies Jr.

There is quite a big cast so I will start by saying that Stallone and Expendables regulars Statham, Crews, Lundgren, Couture, Li and Schwarzenegger all give us what we expect from them and seem to be having a really fun time especially, Arnold who hams it up a little more then usual. As for newcomers… Snipes hasn’t lost a beat and it’s great to see him back in action on the big screen. Gibson is simply a great villain and really chews up the scenery in grand style. Antonio Banderas is hilarious and practically steals the show as the screwball Galgo and his scene laying the Latin charm on Ronda Rousey mid-battle was a showstopper. As for Rousey her line delivery is a bit wooden but, it’s her first flick and when she is in action, the girl is poetry in lethal motion. Harrison Ford also seems to really be enjoying himself too and he and Sly seem to actually have a nice camaraderie together. Too bad it took this long to appear in a flick together. Kelsey Grammar gets some nice laughs as Barney’s grizzled recruiter Bonaparte and the also work well together. And rounding out Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz and Glen Powell are fine in their parts with Lutz’s Smilee possibly being groomed to take a larger role in future installments. And if there is an Expendables 4… I’m in.

Overall, I really enjoyed this flick. It is definitely better then Expendables 2 and comes close to being an equal to part 1It did take a little time to tell it’s story but, there is no shortage of action and when it comes, it’s fast and furious, especially the all out war of a last act. There were some really enjoyable appearances by action icons absent too long from the screen and the new additions seem like they make a good fit if this series continues. The audience I was with wasn’t full but, cheered louder then any audience I have heard in some time. Everyone seemed to have had a blast with this second sequel and I am definitely one of them. A really fun, action-packed popcorn flick that proves Sly and company still got it. It isn’t Shakespeare… it’s The Expendables!

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE DARK (1979)

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THE DARK (1979)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

I’ll start out by saying that The Dark is not a very good movie, but not only does it hold nostalgia for me, as I saw it at the awesome Fox theater in Hackensack (which was across the street from my beloved Oritani) in 1979, but is also a curiosity because, at some point during the film’s making, it appears that movie’s villain changed his origins from some sort of zombie to a space monster…

The simple story has L.A. being stalked by some sort of unnatural fiend (John Bloom) who is tearing off people’s heads. It is being pursued not only by a hard-nosed cop (Richard Jaeckal), but by the writer, father (William Devane) of it’s first victim and an ambitious reporter (Cathy Lee Crosby) who sees this story as her big break. But this creature eludes capture and continues it’s nightly rampages. What is it? And can it be stopped?

Well, the answer to that question might be easier if the filmmakers could decided on what it’s creature actually is. Opening narration and the fact that the monster shoots lasers from it’s eyes (obviously added in post) to decapitate it’s victims has us believing it is a space monster, yet examinations of skin tissue and much of the film’s dialog seem to indicate it is a zombie. The creature also wears human clothes, kinda looks like a zombie and there is a supernatural element as we get blowing wind before it appears and it uses some sort of supernatural power to warn off a psychic (Jacquelyn Hyde) whom is aiding the police. It is only in the last act where there is dialog suggesting that it might be otherworldly and the climactic battle with the L.A. police is filled with explosions as the creature blasts them with it’s laser eyes. But these are things that could have been done with minimal re-shoots. I have read elsewhere that there was indeed a last minute change in the film’s critter due to failed screenings, but never anything official from someone involved in the production. Either way, this flick directed by John ‘Bud’ Cardos from a script by Stanford Whitmore is not very good. There is very little monster action till the last 10 minutes or so and most of the film is boring drama concerning Devane’s writer and his relationship with Crosby’s reporter…or the efforts of the bumbling cops to track down “The Mangler”. There is no suspense and the atmosphere is minimal with only one gory decapitation to interest the gore-hounds and overall, the movie is just plain dull and silly. Simply not much here to recommend other than some 70s nostalgia and watching a decent cast wallow in this mediocre movie.

For a bad B-Movie, this flick has a decent cast of 70s character actors. Devane’s writer is aloof and he plays most of his scenes walking around in a stupor wearing sunglasses. His character and Cathy Lee Crosby’s over ambitious reporter have a romance that adds nothing to the story and neither character makes much of an impact till the last 15 minutes or so, despite being the leads. Jaekel is sound as the cop in-over- his-head who has no idea what he is really dealing with…and in his defense, we’re still not that sure either, despite the end narration telling us the Earth has just had it’s first alien encounter. We also get veteran character actor Keenan Wynn and legendary DJ Casey Kasem as a news mogul and forensics expert respectively. Decent cast caught in a really bad flick.

So, there is not much to recommend about this lame sci-fi/horror with an identity problem. Whether it be a zombie or alien, the film is slow moving and uneventful, for the most part, and the apparent post-production changes in it’s title villain certainly doesn’t help. There is some personal nostalgia for me having seen it in a theater at a time when B-Movies like this could be seen on the big screen, but other than that, I really can’t say too much in the positive about this turkey. Not even bad enough to be funny.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 laser firing zombie/alien things.

dark rating

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES NOV. 21-23

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office!

1. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” $123 Million

2. “Big Hero 6” $20 Million

3. “Interstellar” $15.1 Million

4. “Dumb and Dumber To” $13.8 Million

5. “Gone Girl” $2.8 Million

6. “Beyond The Lights” $2.6 Million

7. “St. Vincent” $2.35 Million

8. “Fury” $1.9 Million

9. “Birdman” $1.85 Million

10. “Nightcrawler” $1.2 Million

source: Box Office Mojo

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MULBERRY STREET (2006)

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MULBERRY STREET (2006)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Mulberry Street is the first feature film collaboration from the Stake Land writing team of director Jim Mickle and Nick Damici, who also plays the lead role of ex-boxer ‘Clutch’ (and Stake Land’s ‘Mister’). Mulberry Street is a horror flick that takes place in a NYC tenement on the eve of it’s tenants losing their homes to eminent domain. As Clutch receives a visit from his soldier daughter (Kim Blair), returning from service in Iraq, a bizarre outbreak hits the neighborhood and Clutch, his daughter and their neighbors, become trapped in their apartments as people around them are being transformed into vicious killers with rat-like features. Can they survive the night as this bizarre outbreak spreads through the apartment building and the rest of the city as well?

The story might sound silly to some but, Mickle takes his tale of a zombie outbreak with a vermin twist completely serious and makes one creepy and effective horror flick out of it. Mickle maintains an atmosphere of dread throughout and offers some tense and suspenseful scenes as our apartment dwellers become the target of their vicious and hungry former neighbors. The almost documentary like style draws us in and Mickle gives us some very ‘real people’ characters to care about and root for. He gets good performances out of his cast and presents some simple but, very effective FX to portray his protagonists and their carnage. Mulberry Street may not appeal to the casual or mainstream horror fan but, to those who enjoy something offbeat, inventive and a little different, then a trip down Mulberry St. is a creepy trip worth taking and a very effective little horror on a micro budget.

Obviously, I like this movie a lot and it shows the potential Jim Mickle has lived up to with his following films Stake LandWe Are What We Are and Cold In July. It’s a fun and very creepy twist on the standard zombie format and uses what could have been a silly premise very effectively. It’s spooky, atmospheric and accomplishes a lot on a very small budget. Definitely recommended to those who love some variety and originality in their horror.

A solid 3 vermin.

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BARE BONES: 22 JUMP STREET and RAGNAROK

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22 JUMP STREET (2014)

21 Jump Street turned out to be a hilariously fun surprise with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum teaming up as Schmidt and Jenko, two misfit cops who get sent back to high school on an undercover assignment, a la the 80s TV show. Not only did Tatum show a gift for comedy but, the two really had a great chemistry and the flick was really funny. Two years later we are back for a sequel that this time finds the duo going to college to investigate a new drug that has already cost one student their life. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are back too and while this flick is not nearly as fresh and funny as the first film, it is still entertaining and their are still plenty of laughs. Hill and Tatum continue to be a really tight comic team and the fun they are having together translates to the screen and gets us through some of the more stale bits and more tired jokes. Overall, I was entertained by this second entry, in what appears to be a franchise in the making, but, the recently announced third installment is going to need some freshening up to keep us in our seats for more.

3 star rating

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RAGNAROK (2014)

Heard some good buzz about this Norwegian monster movie but, those annoyed at Godzilla’s lack of screen time will really be frustrated with this one. Family style film finds a Norwegian archeologist (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen) taking his kids and colleagues to Finnmark to a no-man’s-land of former Soviet territory to find evidence of the whereabouts of a lost Viking tribe. Instead he finds the horrifying truth of the reason for their disappearance in the form of a massive serpent that lives within a lake. Written by John Kare Raake and directed by Mikkel Braenne Sandermose, the film is well made but, takes over an hour for our CGI creature to appear and then it’s further appearances are briefer than Gareth Edwards Godzilla. In between we get a lot of Raiders of the Lost Ark cliche’s Norwegian style and while it isn’t boring, when all is said and done, not a lot happens and what does is nothing we haven’t seen before. An OK flick to pass the time and the Viking lore was an interesting angle but, too familiar and uneventful to be memorable.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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